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Jets Causing Ice Cap Melt: Climatologist

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A California climatologist says the Arctic Circle should be off limits to high-flying jets because their emissions are likely a major factor in the rapid melting of the polar ice cap. Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil engineering at Stanford University, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation he believes black soot particles from jet engines are creating an unnaturally warm layer in the atmosphere over the Arctic and that might be causing the ice to melt below. Arctic icepack levels were at their lowest ever this past summer and global warming has been getting the blame, but Jacobsen's theory suggests it's more localized. "One of the effects of the aircraft is they emit a lot of soot into the upper atmosphere and the sunlight is absorbed by that soot, and the air heats up, so you get this kind of elevated, heated air layer where the aircraft fly," Jacobson said. Jacobson also says he doesn't expect the skies to empty over the Arctic anytime soon.

Transcontinental flights have been using polar routes for decades, but the development of longer-range aircraft and the decision by Russia in 1998 to allow overflights of its territory have turned the Arctic into a busy place. More than 50,000 flights a year are conducted north of the 60th parallel. It's estimated the world's airlines save $100 million a year in fuel costs by taking the northern shortcut. Jacobson said avoiding the Arctic would result in more fuel being burned but he said the overall impact on the environment would be less than continuing the flights.

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